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Which Tippet Size Should I Use?

Posted on April 09 2014

Selecting Tippet
Hmmm.. Which size to use? Photo: Kyle Shea

Selecting the appropriate tippet size for the situation is an often overlooked aspect of fly fishing – even though it could mean the difference between fish and no fish!

First and foremost, a great rule to live by is to fish the strongest tippet you can get away with. There’s no glory in intentionally under-gunning your tippet size. It only leads to longer fights that put an unnecessary amount of stress on the fish. However, there are many factors that determine ‘what you can and can’t get away with.’ Here are a few factors to consider when selecting a tippet size.

  • Fly Size. Matching the correct tippet size to the correct fly size is the most fundamental factor when choosing tippet. Choosing a tippet that is too heavy may hamper the presentation of your fly while tippet that is too light may have difficulty turning the fly over when casting. There are many generic tippet to hook size charts out there that are a good place to start. Here’s an example (thanks to the good folks at Orvis for the basis for this table in this post).

Tippet Size          Tippet Diameter           Hook Sizes
8X                             .003                                          22, 24, 26, 28
7X                             .004                                          18, 20, 22, 24
6X                             .005                                          16, 18, 20, 22
5X                             .006                                          14, 16, 18
4X                             .007                                          12, 14, 16
3X                             .008                                           6, 8, 10
2X                             .009                                           4, 6, 8
1X                             .010                                            2, 4, 6
0X                             .011                                            1/0, 2, 4
.012                         .012                                             5/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0
.013                         .013                                             5/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0
.015                         .015                                             5/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0

However, although these charts are accurate in most situations, there are other factors that may give reason to stray from these recommendations. Some of these reasons are as follows.

  • Fly Profile. An important distinction to make when selecting tippet is that hook size is not always consistent with FLY size. For example, a size 12 san juan worm casts and fishes much differently than a size 12 stimulator. Similarly, two flies tied on the same size hook may be extremely different in weight, take a tungsten bead head nymph versus a standard dry fly. Bushy wind-resistant dry flies or heavily weighted patterns might require a larger tippet size than is suggested.
  • Pressure. Typically, the more fishing pressure a piece of water has, the smarter the fish become. If you’re fishing over fish that see a lot of flies per day, or perhaps fish that are overly ‘spooky,’ jumping down a tippet size just might be the key to success. Lighter tippet allows for a more discrete offering, softer presentations, and more life-like drifts. If the fish aren’t responding like they should, try decreasing your tippet size, you might be surprised!
  • Water Color: Water color has a huge effect on the behavior of many fish species. Gin-clear water may warrant finer tippet in order to fool wary fish. On the other hand, darker or dirtier water may allow you to get away with heavier/stronger tippets which are far superior once the fish is hooked!
  • Fish Species. This might be an obvious one, but it is important to match your tippet or leader material to the species you are pursuing. As mentioned above, you should aim to use the strongest tippet you can get away with for the situation at hand.

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